A newly discovered nano-chameleon with exceptionally large genitals is the world’s smallest known reptile

nano chameleon
The male nano-chameleon (Brookesia nana) is the smallest adult reptile that has ever been found.

  • Researchers discovered a chameleon less than an inch long in northern Madagascar.
  • In a new study, herpetologists suggest this “nano-chameleon” is the world’s smallest known reptile.
  • A male nano-chameleon is well-endowed: Its genitals are almost 20% as long as the rest of its body.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The world’s tiniest reptile is a male chameleon less than an inch long from nose tip to tail. It fits comfortably on a finger tip.

In a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers described finding a single male and female member of the new species, nicknamed “the nano-chameleon,” in the mountains of northern Madagascar nine years ago.

Take out the tail, and the nano-chameleon’s body is even more minuscule – the male is less than half an inch (1.35 centimeters) in length – “making it the smallest known male of the roughly 11,500 known non-avian reptiles,” Frank Glaw, herpetologist at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology and a co-author of the new study, said in a press release.

But the male nano-chameleon, as known as Brookesia nana, isn’t just unique because of its size – it’s also well-endowed, according to the study authors.

The reptile’s genitals are almost 20% as long as its body is, they found.

Exceptionally large genitals

nano chameleon
The Malagasy nano-chameleon’s body is less than half an inch long, researchers found.

Male chameleons, like snakes and other lizards, have an internal sex organ called a hemipenis. A pair of hemipenes are exposed when it’s time for chameleon hanky panky, and the nano-chameleon’s hemipenes are exceptionally large, Glaw’s team found.

The researchers compared the nano-chameleon’s genital size to the other 51 chameleon species living on Madagascar, and found that the animal has the fifth largest genitals on the island, relative to its body size. (They found one chameleon that had hemipenes about one-third of its body size.)

Male nano-chameleons may need such large sex organs, the study authors said, because they’re smaller than their female counterparts.

The female nano-chameleon they found measured about 1.1 inches from tip to tail.

“Extremely miniaturized males” need larger genitals in order to “successfully mate with the larger females,” Miguel Vences, another study co-author, said in a press release.

Tiny chameleons in danger

Researchers have documented other tiny chameleons in Madagascar, including Brookesia micra, a similarly wee reptile that Glaw announced to the world in 2012. (The new nano-chameleon edges out Brookesia micra for the honor of smallest reptile by a few millimeters.)

Yet despite their best efforts, Glaw’s team was only able to find two nano-chameleons in the Sorata massif, a mountainous rainforest region at the north end of the island where they were searching for new species.

Lowland_rainforest,_Masoala_National_Park,_Madagascar
Lowland rainforest in northeastern Madagascar’s Masoala National Park.

Dwarf chameleon species like this one typically have commensurately tiny habitat ranges; sometimes an entire species fits into an area less than 10 acres in size.

The team predicts every member of the nano-chameleon species fits into an area less than 40-square miles in size. Given that estimate, and the fact that the Sorata forests are declining in size, the study authors suggest the newly discovered reptile be designated as a critically endangered species.

“Unfortunately, the habitat of the nano-chameleon is under heavy pressure from deforestation, but the area has recently been designated as a protected area, and hopefully that will enable this tiny new chameleon to survive,” Oliver Hawlitschek, a third study co-author, said in a press release.

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If Godzilla existed in real life, he wouldn’t be able to stand up

  • Since his debut in 1954, Godzilla has gotten bigger and bigger.
  • In 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, he’s bigger than ever, towering at a whopping 119 meters. At that size, his heart wouldn’t be able to pump blood to his brain.
  • His brain would send messages too slowly to his muscles, so he wouldn’t be able to move properly either.
  • Plus, he’d either have to spend all his time sunbathing to stay warm, or produce his own body heat and cook himself.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

The newest Godzilla is bigger than ever, towering at a whopping 119 meters. At that size, his heart wouldn’t be able to pump blood to his brain. And if he were a reptile, he’d have to spend all his time sunbathing to keep warm, while a mammal of his size would cook itself with its own body heat.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: The roar belongs to one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time: Godzilla. Since his debut in 1954, the King of Monsters has rampaged across Tokyo, New York City, and Osaka to name a few. And over the years, he’s gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger. The latest Godzilla is a record 119 meters tall, about six times taller than the tallest animal in history. And to be fair, it’s a fantasy film, not a nature documentary.

But just how fantastical is a 36-story-tall lizard-dinosaur creature who breathes beams of atomic energy? Well, energy beams aside, Godzilla is actually even more unrealistic than you might think. Now, Earth is no stranger to enormous animals.

Just look at the largest dinosaur, the titanosaurs, or today’s blue whales, which reach up to 30 meters long and can weigh 200 tons. Compared to them, Godzilla doesn’t seem that impossible, right?

Mike Habib:  These critters are massive on a scale that’s just totally impossible. I mean, assuming, at least, they’re made of anything even remotely like what we’re made out of and follow any of the roles of biology, they are completely impossible.

Narrator: That’s paleontologist Mike Habib. He’s an expert in giant reptiles and also helps design fantastical creatures for TV and film. And according to him, a creature like Godzilla could never exist in real life for multiple reasons. First, he would be brain-dead long before he ever reached a city because his heart simply isn’t large and powerful enough to pump blood to his head.

Mike Habib: His heart would have to be thousands of tons and fill most of his chest. You’d have to have vessels that you could drive a car through, and he would need the energy consumption of a small power plant, probably, every minute in order to run it. Of course, he’s nuclear-powered, so maybe he has the energy to spare.

Narrator: In reality, large animals like titanosaurs got around this by walking on all fours with their heads held out in front them, not held up high. That way, they don’t have to pump blood against gravity as far. But even if Godzilla did crawl across cities on all fours, he’d have another problem: movement.

You see, whenever you lift your leg or arm, it’s because your brain fires signals to the nerves in your leg and arm muscles. The fastest of these signals travel around 100 meters per second, so the message from brain to leg is virtually instantaneous. Not for Godzilla though. It would take more than a full second for nerve signals to travel the length of his body. Now, a second still sounds pretty quick, but in reality…

Mike Habib: His nerve-conduction speed becomes so slow that he can’t move. Takes forever to do anything.

Narrator: Now, Godzilla does look pretty sluggish in the films, but it turns out, in reality, it would look more like this. But even if Godzilla could move super fast, he wouldn’t have time to fight enemies or demolish buildings because he’d be too busy sunbathing. All animals need a way to regulate body temperature. Reptiles and other cold-blooded animals stay warm by basking in the sun.

But in Godzilla’s case, heat from the sun would have to travel through meters upon meters of tissue to penetrate his hide and reach his internal organs. So to stay warm, he’d have to spend hundreds of hours straight sunbathing. But what if Godzilla were more like a mammal? Like us? He wouldn’t need to rely on the sun since we warm-blooded creatures produce our own body heat. But unfortunately, that would cause yet another problem.

Mike Habib: But then he’s so big, he probably cooks himself. His core temperature hits 300 degrees.

Narrator: Yikes. And even if he somehow got around all these problems, his skeleton would still collapse under its own weight. Now, Mike says he’s a whopping 90,000 metric tons, and that skeleton’s just not strong enough to support 90,000 metric tons of, well, anything.

Mike Habib: Yeah, he would just crumple. Yeah. He’d just collapse. He’d be a very large pile of meat.

Narrator: Not a very intimidating picture. In the end, Mike says Godzilla could only be about half as tall as he was in the original film before his poor heart would give out. But just because Godzilla’s body is unrealistic doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, he’s perfect for the role. He’s tall enough to stalk past city skyscrapers, which give us iconic scenes like this.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in May 2019.

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